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zedonk
(ZEE-dongk)

The offspring of a male zebra and a female donkey.

Yes, there is such a thing, and a zedonk is what you get, linguistically speaking, when you cross a zebra with a donkey.

By the way, in case you need a synonym, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that you can use zonkey instead of zedonk.

And while you'd be forgiven for assuming that a zebrass is the unfortunate result of sitting too long on certain lawn chairs, it's actually yet another name for this hybrid critter.

(If you're still curious about the various results of mixing donkey genes--from asses to zedonks--drop by http://www.luckythreeranch.com/mulexing.asp, which helpfully notes, among other things: "The father of our country, George Washington, was also the father of mule breeding in the Americas.")

"Yes, a lovely farm indeed, but would you happen to own any zedonks?"

 

 

 

Zeitgeist

(TSIYT-giyst)

The spirit of the time; the general outlook of a particular period or generation.

We borrowed Zeitgeist directly from German, where Zeit means "time" and Geist meaning "spirit."

(The geist in Zeitgeist, by the way, is a relative of the geist in English poltergeist and ghost.)

"Ask any critic to comment upon this final year of the Century of American Music, and you're likely to hear a heavy sigh. The year 1999 gave us fluff and smut, the inflatable sweethearts of the teenage market and the foul-mouthed bullies of hip-hop and rock. Releases from aspiring legends like Nine Inch Nails, R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige failed to make the anticipated cultural impact, while previously dismissed artists like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock rose to rule the Zeitgeist." -- Ann Powers, writing in the New York Times.

 

 

 


zephyr

(ZEFF-urr)

1. The west wind.
2. A mild breeze.
3. Any of various soft, light things like fabric or yarns.
4. Something insubstantial, airy, or fleeting.

In early Greek myth, Zephyrus was a cruel, vengeful god of the west wind who delighted in stirring up deadly storms at sea. He also kidnapped a flower goddess and had a fling with one of the Harpies, those monsters with a bird's body and a woman's face.

Over time, though, Zephyrus mellowed. In later Greek myth, he personified the fragrant wind wafting over the Elysian fields, where the blessed enjoyed the afterlife. And it's that sense that inspired our word zephyr -- and that indeed inspired William Shakespeare to conjure the very picture of mildness when he wrote:

"They are as gentle as zephyrs blowing below the violet, not wagging his sweet head."

 

 

 


zinnia
(ZIN-ee-uh)

A bright, showy flower native to Mexico.

The zinnia is among the many flowers named for botanists. It commemorates the German professor of botany, Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759). Here's a story about him:

While venturing deep into the mountains of Mexico to collect botanical specimens, Zinn once chanced upon some brilliant purple flowers, the likes of which he'd never seen before. He stuffed as many as he could into a sack and continued along the path. Soon he was attacked by a gang of thieves, but when they snatched away his precious sack, out spilled only faded purple blossoms. They decided the foreigner must be crazy -- for who in the world would be wandering in the wilds with a bag of dead flowers? Superstitious, they let him go, reasoning that harming someone so clearly demented could only bring bad luck.

"Giddy with anticipation, Vanessa danced around the room with a zinnia between her teeth, then calmly finished getting dressed."

 

 

 

zugunruhe

(TSOOK-uhn-roo-uh)

Migratory restlessness in birds.

This German word has been adopted into English as an ornithological term for the restless displayed at certain times of year by caged migratory birds. But surely it deserves wider metaphorical use as a word for an "instinctive restlessness" in humans as well.

"Yes, we're back from Europe, but the Zugunruhe is already kicking in."

 

 

 

 

zydeco

(ZYE-dih-koh)

 

Southern Louisiana dance music combining the blues, French dance tunes, and Carribean rhythms.

This foot-stompin', washboard-scrapin', accordion-squeezin', fiddle sawing music may owe its name to beans -- or has-been beans, anyway. Zydeco supposedly stems from the Creole pronunciation of les haricots, or, in French, "the beans." The reason: this phrase appears frequently in one of the earliest and most popular zydeco songs, a refrain that goes, "Les haricots sont pas salé," or literally, "The beans aren't salty."

"Well, yes, Mother, I know he's struggling financially at the moment, but he assures me that any day now he's going to get a big grant to produce a zydeco version of Bach's 'Mass in B Minor'."

(c) 1999-2006 Martha Barnette

 

 
                 
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